Although they happened too late to make the article, I had some enlightening conversations with Emily Rauh Pulitzer, a collector and curator of Flavin’s work, and with the artist’s son, Stephen Flavin, who manages his father’s estate. They’re worth sharing here for the additional light they shed [sic] on Flavin’s legacy and the complexities and contradictions inherent in his deceptively simple work. I’ll post them separately, first Pulitzer.
Before she married the late Joseph Pulitzer, Emily Rauh was a highly influential curator at the St Louis Art Museum, where she organized an early, important retrospective of Dan Flavin’s light propositions in 1973. Her essay for the exhibition catalogue was one of the few critical assessments that Flavin–who famously disparaged most peoples’ interpretations of is work, and wrote almost his entire exhibition catalogues himself–admired.
“I think this is often true that artists control a lot of the way they’re perceived, what gets out about them in their lifetime. From my exper with Ellsworth Kelly [from whom she commissioned a site-specific piece for the Pulitzer Foundation], they want their work to be exactly as they did it. But in other moments they realize it would continue after [they died]”
Of Flavin, she said, “I think he put a great deal into his work and very much cared about it lasting. Pulitzer recently saw the National Gallery exhibition, which she praised. “It was very nostalgic trip, really making the best of the big central gallery, especially.”
Pulitzer acknowledges the conceptual contradictions that come with owning Flavin’s work. “We have his first permanent site-specific outdoor piece,” Pulitzer explains. The work is part of a pavilion used primarily in the summer. “It’s along the outside wall, and then part of an inside wall. Part of the piece is a procession; you perceive part of it then more of it, then at the end, you get to a corner and it resolves. But you know, those boxes deteriorated so badly, especially outside, with the weather, that we replaced them. And we talked with the estate about how to do that.”
Pulitzer contrasts that with a 1969 piece she purchased several years ago: “We had it rewired because it was originally made for Europe, but I wanted to have the original fixtures; I wanted the hist of that piece in the piece. With the outdoor piece, it looked so terrible, it would be wrong not to replace the fixtures. But if the original fixtures still look appropriate,” Pulitzer asks, where’s the harm in keeping them?
Related: Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Black at The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts [pulitzerarts.org]
Lights Out [NYTimes]